Arts Desk

UMD Showcases Why Academia Is Dance’s Most Fertile Ground

If you’re a serious artist, one of the best jobs you can find is working as a professor at a university. Think about it: you get to spend all of your time in an institution where ideas, rather than profits or power, are front and center. Sure, there’s pressure to produce, but you’re allowed to take some risks, can pick from a sea of talented students and like-minded professionals to work with, and have incredible facilities at your fingertips. Oh, and your day job is based on helping to influence the next generation. No wonder those positions are coveted.

Listen to University of Maryland dance professor Sharon Mansur talk about the two pieces she’ll be premiering tonight and tomorrow night in a shared concert with professors Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, and the point is driven home. Much of the country might be in a conservative mode regarding arts funding, but the freedom to experiment still seems to exist in academia.

One of the pieces Mansur will be showing, “cimmerian light,” is a 12-minute improvisation that includes collaborators from several other UMD departments. In particular, she and Andrew Dorman, a lighting designer and MFA student in the university’s theater department, have worked together since last year. “I wanted to develop a piece with a lighting designer as a close creative process,” explained Mansur, adding that Dorman was part of the piece since it first began.

Also involved in the process were Felicia Glidden, a sculptor and MFA student who designed the sets, and Bruce Carter, a faculty member in the music department who created the sound score; he and Mansur discovered a shared interest in improvisation several years ago and spent months together then experimenting in a studio.

So while the piece began as a meditation on light and dark, it gradually—thanks to the various people and inputs involved—became an organic collaboration between artists. “Ideas have flowed from one person to the next and morphed,” said Mansur. “It started to get its own life.”

Her second piece, “(re)semblence,” is a series of musings on feminine identity that incorporates six undergraduate dancers and three professional dancers, plus video and slides. It takes place in the theater’s lobby and is set up like an art exhibit: the audience can wander between dancers and focus on whatever attracts them the most.

And then there’s Pearson and Widrig, a husband-wife team of professors who also run an eponymous company. They’ll be trying out their own experimental material with pieces spotlighting former and current students, including a group of women who serve as a Greek chorus of sorts.

The show, Danceworks, is tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. $25.

Amanda Abrams is a local dancer and a member of the company Human Landscape Dance.

Photo by Tom Caravaglia

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